Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Albums Reevaluated: The Replacements, "Don't Tell a Soul"

[Meta-note: hey, it's a new series all about albums I think are significantly better or worse than their reputations!  Tell your friends!]

I remain mystified as to why I’m supposed to hate this album so much.  As far as I can figure, it comes down to two main “problems”: it actually spawned the Replacements’ one sorta-hit single, and it isn’t quite as good as the three albums that preceded it.  Those are two pretty lousy reasons to cast aside an album as strong as Don’t Tell a Soul, but I’ll be a diligent blogger and indulge them.  In order, then:

1)      OMG!  “I’ll Be You” actually got airplay on MTV and the radio!  The Replacements weren’t my little secret anymore!  Man up and stop crying, little rock snob.  The radio and MTV playlists of 1989 needed a little bit of post-punk Stonesy rock to go with their synths ‘n’ hairballs, and there were few (if any) better-positioned bands to deliver it at the time than the ‘Mats.  Getting them heard in daylight hours was a good thing…and secrets are for little children who don’t know how to share.

2)      But Don’t Tell a Soul is a slickly produced piece of sell-out crap compared to the “holy trilogy” that preceded it.  Slickly produced?  Yep.  Sell-out?  Debatable – and not an exceptionally profitable one even if it was.  Crap?  Not even remotely.  Not as good as Let it Be / Tim / Pleased to Meet Me?  You’ve got me there, but honestly: few rock bands ever go on a run that inspired.  An album that’s 80% as good as three masterpieces is still going to be 90% better than most of the other stuff out there.  (I never claimed to be a mathlete, but you get my point.)

Trying to find a review of Don’t Tell a Soul that doesn’t use the phrase “slickly produced” or a synonym thereof is sort of like trying to find a day that doesn’t end in “y”: a fool’s mission if there ever was one.  But seriously: what was there left for the Replacements to do after Pleased to Meet Me but attempt to move on up?  The indie/rock-snob world was already neatly bundled up and living in Paul Westerberg’s den by 1989.  Critically speaking, he could have released forty minutes of himself gargling Carpenters songs and been hailed as a genius by hipster cognoscenti worldwide.  In fact, he more or less did that a few years prior; I hereby submit to the jury The Shit Hits the Fans, and its continued desirability as a collectible artifact.

So yeah, slick production, sky is falling, video on MTV, yadda yadda.  What about the songs?  It’s funny how nobody ever seems to mention them, likely because doing so would mean admitting that Don’t Tell a Soul doesn’t actually suck.  It is true that there are more ballads/mid-tempo songs here than on any prior ‘Mats disc.  It is also true that these songs are intelligent, clever and insightful – all adjectives generally associated with Westerberg’s songwriting.  They are also evolved, a shade or two more adult than the likes of “Skyway” or “Sixteen Blue”, and I think that quality is at the heart of Don’t Tell a Soul’s undeservedly bad reputation.  It’s the Replacements album that might mean more to you at 37 than it did at 17, and that’s just not likely to fly with rock snobs, a group notoriously touchy about their inability to resist aging.

As for me, I’m fine with my age (it’s one of the two mentioned in the last sentence; you guess which), and this is the Replacements album that gets better and better with time for me.  One could argue that it sort of invented “adult alternative” as a genre, and one could simultaneously argue that it bettered most of its competition in that genre from the word “go”.  Beloved artists like Ryan Adams and Wilco clearly took a page or three (or an entire career, really) from the Don’t Tell a Soul playbook – and if those artists left as many rough edges and as much rock ‘n’ roll in their slickly-produced maturity as the Replacements did, I’d find them as consistently interesting as I find Don’t Tell a Soul.

One final argument: if I were forced at gunpoint to pick one-and-only-one favorite Replacements song, “Darlin’ One” might just be it.  Beat that for a recommendation.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Album Review: Joey Ramone, "...Ya Know?"

In some ways, I’ve been dreading this one as much as I’ve been looking forward to it.  I miss Joey immensely, as every Ramones fan does, but I also feel that Don’t Worry About Me, the album he obsessed over and nearly completed before his death, served as a perfect self-penned epitaph.  It was an album chock full of great songs and some of the strongest vocals of Joey’s career, and a decade removed from the sad circumstances of its release it remains a must-own for any serious rock fan.  If you’ve never heard it, do yourself a huge favor: put this review down for a minute, click on over to your favorite music retailer and/or pirate site, and plug that hole in your collection.  You’ll be better off for it, believe me.

As much as I loved the idea of hearing “new” Joey, I was also unconvinced that Don’t Worry About Me really needed a follow-up; if Joey painstakingly designed that one as his musical last will and testament, who are we to argue?  I started to feel a bit better about …Ya Know? once I saw some of the names involved in its creation: Little Steven, Bun E. Carlos, Joan Jett, Ramones producer Ed Stasium – these aren’t people I’d imagine involving themselves in some half-baked grab-bag of leftovers.  I still had my misgivings, but I duly placed my order, and finally got around to spinning the thing today.

Verdict: it’s certainly a grab-bag of leftovers, but it’s a better one than I’d ever imagined.  It’s not a STATEMENT on the order of Don’t Worry About Me, but it is forty-five minutes of songs worth hearing by one of rock music’s most consistently underrated vocalists, spit-n’-polished for release by musicians with a good, honest love for the man and his music.  I can’t at all speak to whether or not Joey would have done anything with this material if he still walked among us, but since he no longer gets a vote I’m very glad to have it.  These songs were clearly not written to sit together as an album, but taken one by one they’re uniformly strong.  The two Ramones remakes, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” and “Life’s a Gas” are winningly stripped-down from that band’s more familiar versions, and the thirteen new songs are all completely charming.  I don’t have any early favorites, but in that good way where the whole thing is far stronger than I’d ever guessed it would be.

…Ya Know? doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about the late great man: he loves New York City, he’s a bit on the lovelorn side, and he’s one of the greatest, most unique singers rock ‘n’ roll has ever produced.  What it does do is give us one more unexpected chance to spend the better part of an hour appreciating him, and that’s more than enough.

[AeroTueday] Wrap-Up

While Rhea and I were on our way home for Memorial Day dinner last night, New York’s Classic Rock station did the unthinkable: they played something recorded within the last five years.  As I said last week, “Legendary Child” may not exactly be the second coming of, say, “Same Old Song and Dance”, but it sure did sound good blasting from the radio on a sticky summer day.  Sometimes, dear readers, that’s all rock ‘n’ roll needs to do.

Most conjecture about Aerosmith at this point deals with their future in some respect: do they even still speak to one another?  Will Music from Another Dimension ever have a firm release date?  Will it be any good?  Will they make it through this summer’s tour without any embarrassing falls from the stage or catty in-fighting?  Is there any gas left in the tank?  These are questions that can only be answered by the band members themselves – and, perhaps, by time.

Clearly, the issue of the band’s interpersonal relationships is at the core of the whole thing.  Unlike when I did my Cheap Trick album-by-album series, I’m not going to delve into the Aerosmith members’ solo and side projects here.  There’s not much to say about any of them, really: this is one band where the whole is ridiculously greater than the sum of its parts, no matter how individually talented those parts may be.  Aerosmith rises and falls on their unity, and I can prove it to you simply.  Listen to Joe Perry’s original, solo version of “Let the Music Do the Talking”.  Not bad, right?  Now listen to Aerosmith’s 1985 revision of it.  I rest my case.

As a fan, I hope they find a way to work together and move forward.  I hope that Music from Another Dimension proves that they’ve done exactly that.  If they haven’t and it doesn’t, no matter; their place in rock history is long since secure.  Look at it this way: it’s been one hell of a performance.  A great encore would be nice, but even if the stage lights just come up instead, the show has been seen and then some.

With that, this particular show is done.  Thank you all for coming on this particular journey through my record collection with me.  I’ll be taking a few weeks off here from the whole weekly-assignment bit, and then I’ll pick another artist (subject TBD) and start the whole ride over again.  See you then.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Date With Durbin

Last Thursday night, right about a week ago this very minute, Rhea mentioned it in passing: “You know, all of my Aero-friends are going to see Buckcherry someplace out on Long Island tomorrow night.”

“We can go if you want.”  I like Rhea’s Aero-friends. By this point, they are in fact my Aero-friends too, but referring to them as hers in that last sentence flowed a bit better.  Writing-geek semantics aside, I mostly offered this to be nice; while I certainly didn’t mind the thought of going, I was fairly certain that she’d decide she’d rather not schlep all the way out to the Island on a Friday night, and that was okay, too.

“I’ll tell you how I’m feeling tomorrow.”  I told her that would be fine, and wrote the whole thing off in my head.  In fact, I didn’t remotely give it another thought until the next afternoon when, while at work, my Blackberry chirped its little new-text sound: “we are SO going to Buckcherry tonight if you’re up for it.”  Well, I’ll be damned: surprising for sure, but the kind of surprise that makes you smile…and makes you glad you wore that D Generation t-shirt under your work clothes, just in case you need to make like an aging-rocker Incredible Hulk on the way home from your day job.

Several hours and several traffic jams later, Rhea and I found ourselves parked around the corner from the Paramount in Huntington, New York.  It’s a weirdly-located venue – a mid-sized rock hall seemingly plopped randomly in the middle of a town that’s far more Scarsdale than Bowery – but one that I quickly became a fan of.  It’s well-designed, sounds great, and boasts the least dickish security I’ve encountered in many a moon.  Rhea works her magic in no time, scoring us two tickets for $20 total.  We meet up with our friends and head inside while the first opening band is on.  They’re a bit too Nickelback for my tastes, but they’re at least competent; the kind of decent local act that towns are always better off for having.

About twenty minutes or so after they finished, I found myself face to face with the one and only James Durbin.  You can ask “who?”, it’s alright: he was the “rock guy” runner-runner-up from last year’s American Idol.  His opening slot was a bizarre spectacle: first off, there was his band.  Each musician was a perfect stereotype: mohawked drummer, long-hair bassist, and so on.  It was like a Playmobil Rock Band set come to life, and it was as mesmerizing as it was stupefying.  As for Durbin himself, he was exactly as he was on American Idol: likable, sincere, reasonably charismatic and, unfortunately, not even slightly talented as a singer.  I begrudge a kid who gets to live – and clearly enjoy – his dream absolutely nothing, but Durbin simply couldn’t stay on key if his life depended on it.  His entire set can be perfectly summarized by his performance of Ronnie James Dio’s classic “Rainbow in the Dark”: Durbin’s spoken intro to the song about Dio and his influence on him was clearly heartfelt, and the song itself is inarguable, a true metal classic.  I wanted to like it, but the second Durbin let out the first of his astoundingly pitch-deaf screams, I found myself pushing my earplugs in as far as they would go.  Still, the kids – and I do mean kids; the entire area in front of the stage was packed with under-eighteens for Durbin’s set – clearly heard something I didn’t in his performance, and good for both him and them.  There is nothing wrong with young people wanting someone closer to their own age to identify with, rather than listening to an old fart like me moan about how an even older fart like Dio did this sort of thing a million times better.  You know what the best thing about being as young as Durbin and his fans is?  You’ve got a lot of time in front of you to learn, grow, and improve.  I wish all of them the best of luck with that in all sincerity, even if I must admit I hope I don’t have to hear Durbin sing again anytime soon.

Once Durbin was done, the kids receded to the back and the aforementioned old farts congregated near the barrier.  I’m on the positive end of the neither-here-nor-there spectrum with Buckcherry, actually: I enjoyed their first two albums, but haven’t been quite as taken with the slicker, more formulaic material they’ve recorded since reforming around the middle of the ‘00s.  Within about five minutes of their taking the stage, all such critical thought was thrown aside: having fun in the moment with my beloved Rhea and our friends that we don’t get to see nearly often enough was far more important than what Will the Critic had to say.  The band was entertaining, their performance both professional and enthusiastic, and so what?  The friends were absolutely first rate, and if the loud music made us all feel a bit more like those teenage James Durbin fans than we do in our day-to-day thirty-something lives, then what more does it need to be?  Sometimes, just being a soundtrack to a great evening is more than enough.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeing a very good party band on a fun night out, and that's exactly what Buckcherry are and what they needn't apologize for being.  For those about to rock, Buckcherry salute you, and vice-versa.

Folks, sometimes you’ve gotta go where the day takes you.  If the day takes you to some nowhere town on Long Island to see a hard rock revival band and a third-place American Idol, don’t just assume that there’s going to be nothing there for you and make excuses to stay home.  Times well worth having sometimes happen in the unlikeliest places – like a rainbow in the dark, as it were.

So, yeah, I'm not sure why (a) I'm in the center of this photo, (b) why I'm not looking at the camera, and (c) why I'm not the one wearing the Cheap Trick shirt in it.  I am sure, however, that Kris' eyes don't look like that in real life.

[AeroTHURSDAY] "Legendary Child" (new single, 2012)

You know what?  I like it.

It ain't earth-shattering, but I hear some real snarl in those guitars again.  There's plenty of blabber elsewhere on the web about the somewhat rough quality of Steven Tyler's vocals, but I think they actually work well with the song.  He sounds real, mercifully underprocessed, honest, and a bit edgier than on most other recent Aero-fare.  Nice to hear some real swing in the rhythm section again, too.  It's not quite perfect: the lyrics are a bit paint-by-numbers, and the main verse riff (the one at about 0:25 or so) clearly derives from Led Zeppelin's "The Wanton Song".   Still, I say we cut 'em some slack this time: after all, better to sound like Zep than to snooze your way through some Diane Warren ballad, am I right?

Complaints found elsewhere on the inter-tubes that this doesn't sound like something from the Toys in the Attic/Rocks era are utterly ridiculous - did you really expect such a thing?  Because I'm a realist, and I certainly didn't.  What we've got here is a slice of late-era Aerosmith that's far more Pump in feel than Just Push Play, and that's certainly a change I can believe in. I find myself cautiously optimistic about the album: this song is good, and I dig the retro-kitchy artwork, easily their smartest-looking packaging in many a moon.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

[AeroTuesday] Compilations Round-Up

Unlike so many of their peers, Aerosmith haven’t particularly been anthologized to death.  Given that their first album is about to turn forty, the amount of major compilations in their discography doesn’t seem all that out of whack with their popularity and longevity.  As with the compilations entry in my Cheap Trick series, I’m going to establish a couple of ground rules for this round-up before we begin.  First off, I’m sticking specifically to domestic American releases this time around, and for compilations that differ between their US and foreign releases, all of my comments apply to the American configurations.  I am also omitting all “truck stop”-style titles; that is, strictly budget-ville releases generally sold at non-traditional retailers.  Generally speaking, artists have no control over – or knowledge, more often than not – such releases.  Got all that?  Good – now, with a yo-ho-ho and a ya-ka-ka-ka-kow, off we go.

Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits (Columbia, 1980)
Sure, its designed-for-vinyl length renders it all but antiquated at this point, but I’m personally glad that this one remains a part of the catalog.  For people around my age, this was sort of a rite of passage kind of thing, the album by which early Aerosmith was first encountered.  If you were forced to condense Aerosmith’s first decade into a ten-song sampler, you could hardly do better.  Even the dubious inclusion of “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” kind of works here in a way it didn’t on Night in the Ruts, and I’ve never really been able to quite figure out why.  Sometimes, there is something to be said for the simple and the direct, and Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits is living proof.

Gems (Columbia, 1988)
Birthed as both a deep-cuts companion to Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits and a way for Columbia Records to cash in on the band’s spectacular rebirth as Geffen recording artists, Gems is very similar to its older brother.  It’s both hopelessly outmoded as a relic of the vinyl LP era, and still a great listen if you’re more concerned with kicks than completism.  If I’m not mistaken, it remains the only place to digitally acquire the original studio version of “Chip Away the Stone”, a fact which in and of itself makes Gems worthy of at least a used-bin pick-up.

Pandora’s Box (Columbia, 1991)
Aerosmith’s entry into the big boxed-set boom of the early ‘90s was one of the better ones, in terms of listenability and comprehensiveness.  At the time of its release, Pandora’s Box was criticized in some corners for a relative lack of unreleased material, but that’s actually one of the things that makes it such an enjoyable listen.  Rather than being weighted down with barrel-scrapings just for the sake of having x amount of PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED TRACKS, Pandora’s Box instead limits the “new” stuff to material actually worth hearing, and surrounds it with an intelligent, imaginative selection of ‘70s classics.  If one wanted a comprehensive collection of ‘70s Aerosmith without actually buying all of the albums, Pandora’s Box delivers just that.  Which, right, is precisely what a boxed set is supposed to do.  Well worth owning.

Big Ones (Geffen, 1994)
The Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits of the band’s second coming: twice as long, half as good.  On the one hand, it does what it says on the label, rounding up the biggest hits of their commercial resurrection.  On the other hand, well, let’s just say that “Walk on Water” > “Love in an Elevator” > “Rag Doll” isn’t exactly an opening sequence on par with “Dream On” > “Same Old Song and Dance” > “Sweet Emotion” and leave it at that.  Fair is fair, though: If you’re looking for all the late ‘80s/early ‘90s smashes under one roof, you’ve come to the right place.

Young Lust: The Aerosmith Anthology (Geffen, 2001)
Sort of a mini-box for the Geffen years, adding some deep cuts and rarities to a fair amount of overlap with Big Ones.  I’m sure the rarities roundup proved useful to a handful of fans not particularly looking to waste their time tracking down, say, the Air America soundtrack a decade or so after the fact, but let’s be honest here: this thing’s a contract fulfiller if there’s ever been one.  [Later reissued with new artwork and title as part of Universal Music’s Gold series; musical content unchanged.]

O, Yeah! Ultimate Aerosmith Hits (Sony, 2002)
One of the better ones, and the first to cross-license from the Geffen/Universal era for a full picture of the band’s career to date.  To someone like me, ten-and-only-ten songs from the ‘70s feels a bit skimpy, but then this isn’t aimed at someone like me. It’s aimed at someone who likes most-or-all of the Aerosmith they’ve heard on the radio.  For that intended audience, this will likely prove completely satisfying; at the end of the day, the worst thing you can say about it is that the two new songs aren’t much to write home about, and the inclusion of Just Push Play’s title track is a little on the bizarre side.  Still, as these things go, three out of thirty ain’t bad, and O, Yeah Is the one to get if the only Aerosmith you need is a good, solid compilation.  [Later reissued with new artwork and title as part of Sony’s Essential series; musical content unchanged.]

Devil’s Got a New Disguise: The Very Best of Aerosmith (Sony, 2006)
O, Yeah collapsed into a single disc, the ‘70s now relegated to merely five songs, and with the previous compilation’s two new tracks replaced by two even newer, even lamer new ones.  Utterly dispensable product, and the cover art is ugly to boot.

Tough Love: The Best of the Ballads (Geffen, 2011)
American Idol cash-in by Universal, thoroughly skewered over a year ago in this post right here.

Next week: solo albums and final thoughts.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Time Everlasting, Time to Play B-Sides

...but no time to update the blog.  Apologies for turning this into the all-Aerosmith channel lately, but I've had no time to slow, as the song referenced in the title of this post says next.  Which is really grinding my gears, because there's so much to blog about.  Did you know that I somehow ended up witnessing a live performance by one-time American Idol "metalhead" James Durbin two nights ago?  Of course you didn't, and how would you given that I write posts in my head all the time and never seem to manage to sit down long enough to type 'em out these days.  So consider this one both a teaser and an IOU for more tales of rock 'n' roll adventure and nonsense in the coming few days.  Scout's honor.

Yeah.  James Durbin.  Really.  In the same room as that goofball and everything.  Watched him do a tribute to Ronnie James Dio that proved unequivocally that there is no way for the departed to return to Earth and strangle somebody.  Mock me or envy me, it's your choice.  Film at eleven.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

[AeroTueday Two-Fer] "Honkin' on Bobo" (2004) & "Rockin' the Joint" (2005)

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you this week’s episode in which our stars present to you two tales of contact fulfillment.  In the annals of rock music, there are three sure signs of a band looking to honor the terms of its recording contract without actually delivering any noteworthy new music: the covers album, the live album, and the compilation.  As of this writing, pending the delivery of their often-promised, never-delivered new album, Aerosmith has made a decade out of peddling all three.

The atrociously titled Honkin’ on Bobo was a great idea actualized at the worst possible time in the band’s career.  There’s not much denying that Aerosmith could have delivered one motherfucker of an album of blues covers in the mid ‘70s.  I’m even willing to believe that they could have done such material justice as late as the Pump/Get a Grip/Nine Lives era of their existence.  Sadly, by 2004, an album of blues covers was simply a way for the band to throw some new product at the market while minimizing their need to actually collaborate.  On the one hand, there is nothing embarrassing about Honkin’ on Bobo once you get past its title; this is the sound of a band of seasoned professionals turning in a competent performance of material they know well.  Compared to a reputation-wrecker like Just Push Play, that’s a step up.  On the other hand, there is nothing exciting or enticing about the album, either: it crawls by in a monotonous “next song, same as the last” blur, interrupted only by a couple of always-dreaded Joe Perry vocals.  There is nothing particularly great on Bobo, and there is nothing remarkably bad on it either.  It is ultimately a display of ultra-competence and minimal inspiration.  Unfortunately, the blues is supposed to be played from the heart rather than from ego, obligation or sterile “ability”, and as a result Honkin’ on Bobo ends up being the exact opposite of what it should have been.  It’s a damned shame, really.

 As for the live Rockin’ the Joint, recorded at a small-ish Las Vegas casino venue on the Just Push Play tour, there’s really nothing to say about it at all.  If you want to capitalize on recording a live album in an unusually small venue, you should not turn around and mix it as though it were captured at any corporately-named Enormo-Dome.  Throw in obnoxiously bleeped-out stage banter (why, because so many nine-year-olds were buying live Aerosmith albums in 2005?) and perfunctory performances of material from their worst album alongside a smattering of predictable hits, and you’ve got a product that couldn’t possibly have really had much of a market.  So why do I own it?  Good question, let’s see here, what does that sticker on the cover say?  TARGET EXCLUSIVE!  2 BONUS TRACKS!  Sigh.  If there is one bit of wisdom I can impart to you, dear readers, it is that leaving pointless collecting behind frees you to spend more time with good music, instead of wasting so much of your time muddling through mediocrity or worse.  I’d recommend it to anyone with even a small amount of soul in their soul.

Let’s see: covers record, pointless live album.  That’s two of the terrible triumvirate accounted for.  Compilations, then…whoa, boy.  That’s a huge kettle of fish where Aerosmith are concerned; a regular Pandora’s box if you will.  (I’ll pause here a moment to let you stop groaning.)  We’ll open it up next week; same day, same channel.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

[AeroTuesday] "Just Push Play" (2001)

First things first: what’s with that sorry-ass album artwork?  I mean, really: a robot babe?  On an Aerosmith album?  Listen, Steven, Joe, everybody else: you guys get laid.  In fact, you’re famous for it.  So why don’t we leave the mechanical hotties for those terminal virgins in, say, Styx and their fans next time, okay?

Comedy aside, I’ve been dreading this particular review since this series began.  Just Push Play is an absolutely horrible album, seemingly made simply to satisfy the terms of a record contract by a band that had next to no interest in making music together anymore.  It’s Aerosmith’s worst studio album by a very wide margin.  It’s an album where none of its creators seem the least bit engaged by – or, for that matter, even particularly interested in performing – the uniformly pedestrian or worse material.  That it stands, as of this post’s publication, as their last album of original material is a crying shame, as it’s a completely undignified end to a largely brilliant career.

By now, you may have guessed that I don’t listen to this one much.  It’s probably been at least five years or so since I last front-to-backed it, but I did so last night.  It is said that it's stupid to suffer for art, and last night's listening session served as a severe (if unnecessary) reminder of that.  What follows, then, are my notes as typed while listening.  Sure, I could have taken more time to whip these ideas into a cohesive review, but then again Aerosmith could also have taken the time to whip Just Push Play into a cohesive album.  In that spirit, let’s let the criticism match its object.

Beyond Beautiful: Halfway-decent BIG FM RADIO ROCK, made distinctive only by Tyler’s vocals, which are far better than his nondescript lyrics.  Likeable enough, but could have benefitted greatly from a bit more TLC.

Just Push Play: Absolutely hideous attempt to sound “current”.  One of the most forced things I’ve ever listened to, from the pseudo (very pseudo, says your humble author who, like the rest of the world, has been listening to a lot of Beastie Boys these past few days) hip-hop production flourishes to pathetic lyrics that actually contain the phrase “pimp daddy.”  The worst song in their entire official catalog?  It’s possible.  On second thought, scratch “possible” and substitute “without a doubt”; I just hit the “Walk This Way” reference and the “fuckin’ A” chorus near the end.  Fuckin’ ouch.

Jaded: I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for this one, as Aerosmith’s latter-day hit singles go.  Pure power-pop, right down to the very Cheap Trick-ish BIG CHORUS.  Of course, Cheap Trick would have had the good sense to pick the whole thing up a tempo notch or two…

Fly Away From Here: Guess what?  They still don’t want to miss a thing!  File under: lame sound-alike.

Trip Hoppin’: Sadly, the song is no better than its title.  Even the horns – and, generally speaking, I love it when Aerosmith uses horns – can't do much for this sad effort.  Next.

Sunshine: More “Jaded”-ish power pop.  Not terrible, but it could use a more memorable chorus

Under My Skin: Loud, skillfully orchestrated, not bad.  Dig the Beatles-outta-nowhere chorus change; it’s both unexpected and welcome.  Still, I’ve got to wonder: did Tyler spend more than two hours total on the lyrics to this album?  Because we’re halfway done and I haven’t heard a single clever turn of phrase yet.  Which, in this case, is really too bad: with a few of ‘em in tow, this song could have been A-list material.

Luv Lies: It’s amazing how much this sounds like “Crazy”.  See what I did there?

Outta Your Head: Enough with the badly-executed drum loops already, wouldya?  They stopped being hip at least five years before this album came out, and I’m being generous with that timeframe.  Is that “men from mars” bit in the first verse supposed to be a reference to Blondie’s “Rapture”?  Because the quality level of the rapping itself in both songs is about equal, which is not a compliment.  Anyway, they should have issued a single of the title track with this as a B-side…and immediately shot every last copy straight into the center of the sun.

Drop Dead Gorgeous: STOP LETTING JOE PERRY SING.  Thank you.  –Management.

Light Inside: Relatively heavy compared to the rest of this sorry pile of tracks, but also completely and utterly forgettable.  Sadly, it’s still the third or fourth best song on the album.

Avant Garden: Ah yes, the epic album closer.  It’s as forced and stilted as its title, and it mentions lucid dreaming at one point.  Sorry gents, but Queensryche already beat you to that one, and rock ‘n’ roll absolutely didn’t need a second song on that particular topic.

(Hidden junk after the last song): Trippy, man, trippy.  Does this mean that it’s finally over?

Thankfully, that’s exactly what it meant.  As I type this, there is a lot of conjecture as to what the album Aerosmith are currently (allegedly) putting the finishing touches on right now will sound like.  Personally, I’m not being unrealistically optimistic, but I do have my fingers crossed because I desperately want it to at least be better than this.  Thankfully, Just Push Play isn’t how Aerosmith will be remembered anyway – honestly, is anyone really going to cue this one up in five or ten years’ time when they could be listening to Rocks or Pump? – but it also shouldn’t be how they went out.  I’m not saying that to be snide or snarky, either.  I’m saying it as a fan who knows that they were capable of better than this at the time, and who believes on some level that they may still be.

Here’s hoping, anyway.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

[AeroTuesday] "Armageddon" Soundtrack & "A Little South of Sanity" (1998)

First things first: I am perfectly aware that some of you saw that I decided to lump the Armageddon soundtrack in with this week’s review and began salivating in anticipation of the seemingly inevitable ripping-to-shreds.  I’m gonna let you down early, then: it’s not exactly going to go down that way.  Surprised?

My tastes – even the relatively small percentage of them that I’ve written about on this blog – are what they are: louder, faster, skip the damned ballads!  It’s no surprise (surprize?) then that “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” probably wouldn’t even make my Aero-Top-100.  Long ago, Diane Warren and I decided to simply admit we had very different tastes and leave it at that.   Still, no matter how undeniably cheese-tastic the end result is, I just can’t find it in my heart to dump on Steven Tyler for wanting to record the big theme from a film that was poised to be his daughter’s breakout success as an actress.  It’s a noble, charming thing to do, and the fact that millions of record-buyers liked it made it squarely a win for everybody besides me.  In this case, I’ll happily lump it.  Besides: no matter what my opinion of the relative quality of the song as a composition, Tyler sings it extraordinarily well.  Listen in a bit closer the next time you’re stuck with it in the post office or Walgreen’s or wherever, and you’ll hear what I mean.

Moving right along, then….wait, there was another new Aero-tune on the Armageddon soundtrack?  There was indeed: a rocker called “What Kind of Love are You On”, to be precise.  It’s not a bad little number, either; while it’s never completely captured my imagination, Rhea loves it to bits.  I’ll completely defer to her on this one, as should you.

On to A Little South of Sanity for real this time: it’s okay.  More than okay, actually: it’s fairly decent.  Jack Douglas, who mixed the whole thing, gets the sort of beefy, ballsy sound he’s held in such high regard for, and the generous twenty-three song track list gives you a good idea of what Aerosmith was playing live in the mid ‘90s, and what they sounded like then.  So, given all of that, why do I never end up pulling it off the shelf?  Because, despite its charms, it’s still a patched-together contract-filler.  Is it better than you’d assume the second you saw the Geffen – and not Columbia/Sony – logo on the back cover?  Absolutely.  Is it at all necessary in a post-file-sharing world where any number of well-recorded, full shows from the same era is little more than a few seconds of Google-fu and download-delay away?  Not so much. 

Might it then serve as a decent, well-recorded sampler and advertisement for how great Aerosmith, regardless of anyone’s opinion of the quality of their contemporaneous studio output, was on stage at the time?  Yeah, I think that’s the ticket.  You could easily go your whole life without ever hearing A Little South of Sanity and be none the poorer for it.  You could also throw it on during your ride to work tomorrow and smile a bit wider for having done so.